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#368496 - 21/03/2017 12:36 Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng?
Tim
veteran

Registered: 25/04/2000
Posts: 1455
Loc: Arizona
Background: I figure it is time to head back to school and get another degree. My medium/longish term goal is to get a Masters in Operations Research. However, one of the requirements of the program is knowing an 'advanced computer language'. My only formal education was in ADA and FORTRAN, neither of which do I have a decent modern compiler (at home, they are available at work but I don't want to have to use work assets for homework). So, I figure this is a good time to get an undergrad degree in something programming related also.

I do some programming at work, but it is a means to an end. I do a lot of data analysis, so I just sling something together in an Excel Macro (or MySQL and a lot of painful SQL statements if I hit data limits) and roll with it. It isn't pretty and very brute force. Learning how to do something more elegant and stand alone would be awesome. End goal would be to learn how to design and build a decent data analysis tool for a specific file formatted input to do analysis on the road and then a database/web interface for when analyzing data at home. However, the analysis is the final product, not the programs used to achieve that analysis.

Question: What is the real difference between a computer science and software engineering degree? Which would probably be better in my case? I am leaning toward a software engineering degree (my other degrees are engineering based), but advice from people who actually know the difference would be useful.

Thanks for any advice!
Tim

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#368497 - 21/03/2017 13:23 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Tim]
K447
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Registered: 29/05/2002
Posts: 607
Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Tangential to your inquiry, spend a few moments reading about the Swift programming language. Apple even provides a Swift Playgrounds learning app.

Swift has been rapidly rising in stature and acceptance. Rather remarkable, actually.

Swift on server side.

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#368498 - 21/03/2017 14:45 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Tim]
Roger
carpal tunnel

Registered: 18/01/2000
Posts: 5545
Loc: London, UK
Originally Posted By: Tim
Question: What is the real difference between a computer science and software engineering degree?


It depends on the school. Generally, CompSci will have more theory in it, and SoftEng more practical stuff, but that's not a solid rule. Look at the curriculum and see what kinds of modules they have available.

Originally Posted By: Tim
I do a lot of data analysis


Look at R. Also look at Python, which -- I believe -- has got a lot of data analysis libraries.
_________________________
-- roger

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#368499 - 21/03/2017 15:41 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Roger]
Tim
veteran

Registered: 25/04/2000
Posts: 1455
Loc: Arizona
Originally Posted By: Roger
Look at R. Also look at Python, which -- I believe -- has got a lot of data analysis libraries.
R looks really interesting. I'll have to play around with it.

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#368501 - 21/03/2017 19:35 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Tim]
canuckInOR
carpal tunnel

Registered: 13/02/2002
Posts: 3132
Loc: Portland, OR
Originally Posted By: Tim
Which would probably be better in my case? I am leaning toward a software engineering degree (my other degrees are engineering based), but advice from people who actually know the difference would be useful.

I have to question whether getting a degree in either is useful, if your end goal is a Masters in OR. If the only reason you're looking at a degree in either is to learn "an advanced computer language," then I think you're barking up the wrong tree -- neither of those degrees are geared towards teaching you that. For example, in my CS degree, we used Pascal, C, C++, asm, Matlab, Modula-3, lisp, and a few others that escape me now. With the exception of the first-year classes, none of them spent more than a few weeks at the beginning of the semester going over the syntactic sugar of whatever language was being used in that class.

So your time (and money) might be better spent taking a few programming classes at a community college (if an official document is necessary) or just doing some tutorials online and then developing a small body of work that demonstrates that you meet the requirement (if an official document is not required), than spending 4 years earning a degree that's only tangentially related to medium/long-term goal.

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#368502 - 22/03/2017 00:40 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Tim]
DWallach
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Registered: 30/04/2000
Posts: 3682
Totally biased answer on my part, as I teach students pursuing computer science degrees, but...

The essence of computer science is learning ideas that have a long shelf life, and incidentally learning how to program. As such, a CS degree will typically include classes on algorithms, AI / machine learning, operating systems, networking, compilers, security, distributed systems, etc. Our own CS majors do learn to program in several different languages, but none of them really matter. It's not learning Java that matters in my own class, it's learning when to use O-O techniques and when to use functional techniques and how to test that your program is bug free. (My own class is maybe 50/50 "computer science" vs. "software engineering".)

Conversely, a software engineering degree will spend a lot more time on software, in general, and the processes and tools for managing a herd of developers. If you're lucky, you'll get a class on historical software successes and failures. Learn why bad software engineering killed people with the Therac-25 radiation machine.

What's better for you? Since your ultimate goals are outside of the field of computer science, as such, it sounds like your goals are to "satisfy the prerequisite" and call it a day. However, if you're waffling between CS and software engineering, you might hedge your bets. Depending on the school, the same introductory sequence might work for both majors. Or there may be a path from CS to software engineering without an equivalent path in the other direction. Maybe you only really need to plan out your first semester and leave the rest for later on.

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#368580 - 06/04/2017 05:41 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Tim]
drakino
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Registered: 08/06/1999
Posts: 7867
Loc: Seattle, WA
Pick the one with an ethics class involved.
_________________________
Tom

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#368729 - 24/04/2017 17:21 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: drakino]
drakino
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/06/1999
Posts: 7867
Loc: Seattle, WA
Another good voice on the topic of ethics in Computer Science: https://www.wired.com/2017/04/hey-computer-scientists-stop-hating-humanities

Curious Dan about the program at your school, are ethics and humanities classes optional or required on the computer science side? Sounds like there's some of it more on the software engineering route akin to bridge engineers.
_________________________
Tom

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#368733 - 24/04/2017 19:59 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: drakino]
Tim
veteran

Registered: 25/04/2000
Posts: 1455
Loc: Arizona
I don't know about computer science, but pretty much any engineering program I've seen has at least an intro to ethics type class. They all had the required humanities also (lit, speech, art/film appreciation, history, etc).

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#368746 - 25/04/2017 16:53 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Tim]
canuckInOR
carpal tunnel

Registered: 13/02/2002
Posts: 3132
Loc: Portland, OR
Originally Posted By: Tim
I don't know about computer science, but pretty much any engineering program I've seen has at least an intro to ethics type class. They all had the required humanities also (lit, speech, art/film appreciation, history, etc).

My CS degree did require some non-math/non-CS electives, but there were no hard requirements with respect to what those electives were, and certainly no requirement for an ethics class, or even that those electives had to be humanities.

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#368753 - 25/04/2017 20:53 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: drakino]
DWallach
carpal tunnel

Registered: 30/04/2000
Posts: 3682
Originally Posted By: drakino
Curious Dan about the program at your school, are ethics and humanities classes optional or required on the computer science side? Sounds like there's some of it more on the software engineering route akin to bridge engineers.

Our CS major doesn't directly require an ethics class, but ethics do show up in specific classes when it's appropriate. My security class, for example, starts off with a lecture on the topic and it comes back multiple times during the semester.

Generally speaking, any university CS major will have a variety of "in major" requirements, a variety of "out of major" requirements, and a set of open holes for "electives". If you wanted to study more on ethics or whatever else, you could work those into your out of major requirements and/or electives by taking classes in other relevant departments.

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#369055 - 07/08/2017 11:36 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Tim]
Tim
veteran

Registered: 25/04/2000
Posts: 1455
Loc: Arizona
Just to follow up, Oregon State has an online post-baccalaureate CS bachelor's degree, so it skips all the fluff that has already been satisfied. I decided to run with that one and see how it goes.

Thanks again for the input.

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#369081 - 08/08/2017 22:33 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Tim]
DWallach
carpal tunnel

Registered: 30/04/2000
Posts: 3682
Enjoy! I'm always hesitant about online things because so much of my own learning happened "in person", especially waiting around in labs waiting for computers to free up. Obviously, that's not how anything works today. We've got no artificial scarcity on computational resources that encourage you to hang out with and learn things from your peers.

Still, there's just something about huddling together with somebody to work through a problem, and there's also something about seeing somebody just working on whatever, watching over their shoulder, and saying "hey, what's that all about?"

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#369082 - 08/08/2017 22:51 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: Tim]
tfabris
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Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30724
Loc: Seattle, WA
Even classroom training isn't usually enough to make someone good at their job. The most important lessons I've learned in IT/CS have all been learned on the job. In college they teach you how to code for a specific language, but they can't teach you how to interact with the systems at the company you're going to work for. On the job, you learn how to manage your code in a collaborative environment, how to deal with flaky build systems, how to write good software tests, how to interact with your fellow coders...
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Tony Fabris

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#369085 - 09/08/2017 13:44 Re: Advice: Comp Sci or Software Eng? [Re: DWallach]
Tim
veteran

Registered: 25/04/2000
Posts: 1455
Loc: Arizona
Originally Posted By: DWallach
Enjoy! I'm always hesitant about online things because so much of my own learning happened "in person", especially waiting around in labs waiting for computers to free up.

I decided I had to do online, simply because of my job requirements. I had two aborted starts previously for in-person classes. Both times I ended up going on travel a week before the final and not coming back until three weeks after the final, so grades were already due. Twice in a row convinced me that in-person wouldn't work in my situation.

I wasn't overly excited about online when I signed up for my first class. It turned out to work really well, though. Of course, this time might be different, since OSU requires proctored exams. The exams are taken either going to a local testing place, which would probably be unreasonable for me, or have somebody stare at you through your webcam while taking it online, which is excessively creepy. I plan on getting a small laptop (Inspiron 5000 or something) and dedicate it solely to taking those tests.

There are group projects. It just takes adapting to being online instead of face to face.

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